There is an ongoing court case in Gaborone in which some local people in Mochudi allegedly destroyed a cellphone relay tower erected by Mascom, claiming that it was a health hazard to people in the immediate vicinity.
It is unfortunate, however, that the fallout from the destruction of the tower totally eclipsed the most important issue, that of radiation from cellphones and their transmitters.
The relevant ministry has still not made a statement one way or the other about cellphone radiation.
There is no denying that it is cause for concern among many people, including scientists.
I am intrigued with the subject here in Botswana following what some towns in America have done about cellphone radiation.
Like warning labels on cigarette packets and on beer bottles and cans, some cities in the United States now require cellphone traders and manufacturers to label the amount of radiation emitted by each cellphone they produce or sell.
A number of inconclusive researches conducted throughout the world have added to the debate.
Radiation emission has over time been linked to brain tumours that cause cancer, however, the debate on whether cellphone radiation causes cancer still remains inconclusive to this day.
A number of studies have failed to conclusively state that cellphone usage has any linkage to cancer and yet could also not emphatically state that cellphones were safe to use.
One of the professors who was involved in a recent study this year told CNN last week that, “I’m not telling people to stop using the phone. I’m saying that I can’t tell you if cellphones are dangerous, but I can tell you that I’m not sure that they are safe.”
On Tuesday this past week, the city of San Francisco passed a law requiring cellphone retailers to post the amount of radiation emitted from their phones.
The city’s board of supervisors approved the new law, which requires stores to disclose the specific absorption rate, or SAR, of each phone they sell.
This can’t be much ado about nothing; something is going on here.
Studies, however, have sternly linked brain tumours to cell phone usage in the UK, concluding that half an hour spent on your cellphone every day puts one at a 40 percent risk of developing cancer.
“This is a very controversial issue,” said a doctor who runs a surgery near the African Mall and who declined to be named. “Our government has not taken any position or made any statement. All we can do is wait for other countries like the US to lead and advise us on this highly technical issue.”
Despite the unending decade-old debate, doubts are slowly filtering through into the public domain and the release of such information is obviously controlled, especially considering the size of the cellphone industry.
That the cellphone makers are now required in some places to post in stores and on cellphones how much radiation their handsets give off is a cause for concern.
That mobile phone retailers are now required to provide additional safety-related information to consumers is an indication that not all is being told about the cellphone.
Obviously, this was done in the hope that putting out such information for customers to see what level of radiation the cell phone emits could help them make informed choices.
As expected, the cellphone industry opposed the new law, saying that science has shown that cellphone radiation is not harmful to people, which would raise questions as to why they would prefer that the emission levels be publicised, especially if they know that the radiation is not harmful to people.
While the world debates over cellphone radiation and research after research failing to provide conclusive evidence on whether cellphone radiation is deadly to the cellphone users, the worrying fact is that cellphone sales are sky rocketing by the day in all countries in the world.
Though the researchers say they cannot link malignant brain tumours with cellphone usage, they still cannot encourage us that it is safe. Worth noting still, is the fact that the same researches are sometimes partly funded by the cell phone producers themselves.
The Cancer Center reports that, convinced that a nine-year cellphone habit led to his brain cancer, neurologist Chris Newman, a medical doctor, filed an $800 million lawsuit in the US against his cellphone’s maker and several other telecommunications companies.
The Center says that Newman’s lawsuit comes five years after the dismissal, for lack of evidence, of a lawsuit filed in Florida by a David Reynard, who alleged that a cellphone was responsible for his wife’s fatal brain cancer.
“In Newman’s case,” says the Cancer Center, “his lawyer has said that “it’s really not a question at all” whether the cancer is cellphone-related.”
The evidence, the lawyer says: Newman’s own doctors made the connection between his long-time cellphone use and his tumor, which is positioned in “the exact anatomical location where the radiation from the cellphone emitted into his skull”.
In Botswana, while the older generation has only been using the cellphone for about ten years, our young generation is obviously more at risk since we find even primary school going children already using the cellphone more often than grownups do.
They are going to be exposed to this radiation from an early age until they become busy adults who will be relying more and more on cellphones.
My major concern is that one day it may turn out that one group was right about cellphone radiation, with our generation having been used as guinea pigs.
I am chillingly reminded of the way the tobacco industry fought to hide the truth about the dangers of tobacco, only for the truth to be confirmed years and years later after millions of people had suffered, with many dying as a direct result of tobacco related illnesses.
As we talk product safety, is the cellphone industry, therefore, walking the same path as did the tobacco industry?
In the meantime, many cellphone users might be gambling with their health and, in fact, risking cancer, and it could take another ten years for the same users to know their fate.
Radiation emission rates have also been the core of debate over the years, and governments in other parts of the world are drawing up safety guidelines on recommended safe levels of mobile phone radiation levels to which manufacturers have to comply.
The government of Botswana, cellphone traders and service providers in Botswana might want to pre-empt any misinformation and earnestly provide customers with relevant safety information about the cellphones they are selling to obliging Batswana, especially if it is an inconvenient truth that there is some amount of harm, no matter how miniscule, in the use of the cellphone.